Welcome back to The Flyn Panther!
For this weeks “What’s it Like” segment I had a chat with a Fort Worth Center, Air Traffic Controller who was kind enough to share his perspective regarding the industry from behind the scope. We cover topics like the pilot shortage, how to become an ATC, some of the things pilots do that annoy controllers and more. His name is Jared and you can follow him on twitter by clicking here. As always, I hope you enjoy the interview and if you have any questions or comments be sure to leave them below and share!
FP: Denotes myself as the interviewer
ZFW: Denotes Jared the interviewee
Editors note: For anyone interested in hearing pilot to controller communications please click here courtesy of liveatc.net
FP: So who is Jared?
ZFW: I’ve always been a lover of all-things aviation. One of my earliest memories was on an airplane and I’ve been hooked ever since. I knew that some sort of career in aviation was a path that I wanted to take and I’m extremely pleased that it lead towards air traffic control. I might be biased, but enroute air traffic control is the best. Aside from being an aviation enthusiast, I’ve always had a passion for motorcycles. Also, while I was raised in Wisconsin, Texas is where I plan on staying for many, many years.
FP: When did you decide that being an Air Traffic Controller was something you wanted to do?
ZFW: I attended the University of North Dakota for college with the intention of majoring in commercial aviation. My original plan was to become a commercial airline pilot, but after my freshmen year was when I started looking into ATC more. After taking a few ATC related courses, I knew it was what I wanted to do for career.
FP: Are you also rated as a pilot? If not what percentage of your colleagues would you say are also pilots?
ZFW: Yes, I do have my private pilot license. I did all of my flight training when I was in college, but unfortunately, I haven’t done much flying since. When I did fly, it was done in a Cessna 172. Not many people that I work with are pilot’s. I’d say maybe 10%.
FP: Speaking of pilots, what’s the top 3 things that we do that will annoy a controller?
ZFW: Of course, this will vary from controller to controller, but the top of the list is when pilots are not vigilant while listening on frequency. Being a pilot, I do understand the workload that can happen in the flight deck, but always keeping an open ear for your call sign is very important. When a sector gets very busy, especially with weather, we simply don’t have enough time to repeat the same transmissions over and over. Another thing to add to the list is when a pilot calls up on initial contact requesting flight following or to open their IFR flight plan and they tell us everything. We eventually will need to know all of the information, but initially I just want your call sign and then we can go from there. The last annoyance I will list is when a pilot thinks they know what is happening in the sector they are flying through. I see this a lot when an airplane is climbing or descending and they have to be stopped at an interim altitude for traffic. Just because you can see an airplane on TCAS and it appears you are far enough away, that doesn’t mean that it is safe for you to change altitudes yet. Situations can get very complex when you have airplanes constantly climbing and descending. All we ask is for a little bit of patience. I promise, we won’t forget about you.
FP: How often would you say that these things occur?
ZFW: To be honest, these things happen daily and we half expect them to happen.
FP: Are there any common misconceptions about Air Traffic Controllers that you would like to clear up?
ZFW: We are on the same team as pilot’s. We want you to get to your destination as safely and as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, not every flight can go from A to B without a reroute, altitude change, or vector. It happens a lot due to the volume and complexity of traffic that controllers deal with every day. When we have to give lengthy reroutes or big vectors, we don’t do it to punish the airplane or to make the flight crew’s life difficult. We simply do it to keep everyone safe and to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible.
FP: What’s one thing about being a controller that might even surprise us pilots?
ZFW: From an enroute perspective, we can work a lot of airspace. When traffic permits, one controller can work a sector that covers an area that is 200 miles wide and handles airplanes from the surface all the way up. Not only do we deal with such a large area, we also have to manage multiple frequencies, too. There is an art to being able to juggle between multiple frequencies to talk to different aircraft so that no one is left out.
FP: Undoubtedly, you’ve heard about the current pilot shortage, and it seems like ATC is trending in the opposite direction from my research. Is that an accurate statement and if so what’s your take on it?
ZFW: I am aware of the ongoing pilot shortage that is hurting the aviation industry. ATC also has an ongoing controller shortage, too. I’m not sure if I would call them opposites as both sides need qualified candidates, but just two different types of shortages. There are probably thousands of qualified pilots out there who are gaining hours waiting for their opportunity with the airlines. With ATC, there are thousands of people who meet the requirements set by the FAA, but whether or not they can actually do the job is something that can take years of training to find out. So much time and effort is invested is a trainee over the years before they can actually work on their own and make a difference towards overall staffing.
FP: If someone wanted to become an Air Traffic Controller today, how would you recommend them going about it?
ZFW: I picked the college route when it came to getting involved in ATC. As of today, that is still a viable option along with joining the military. The FAA will also hire people who have steady work and/or education experience to qualify without any sort of aviation background. In the end, it all comes down to a personal preference.
FP: What type of schedule do controllers work? I hear the same voices pretty often around the DFW area.
ZFW: Most controllers at Fort Worth Center work a 5-day work week with various shifts throughout the week. We rotate between working day, night, and midnight shifts though the course of the work week. Controllers are also assigned a certain set of sectors that they work daily, so it is common on both ends to hear familiar voices on a weekly basis.
FP: Before we wrap up here, I have to ask you your thoughts on possible privatization and Next Gen?
ZFW: As far as privatization goes, I think both controllers and pilots have concerns. Whether it be our pay and benefits or user fees for aircraft, there could definitely be some unfavorable outcomes. From an enroute perspective, our main NextGen implementation was ERAM and this was completely rolled out not to long ago. This upgrade replaced the old 1950-60’s processing computer with something more up to date. Some other NextGen programs that should eventually make it to the enroute world are Datacom and ADS-B.